Kenneth Charles Williams
Kenneth Charles Williams (22 February 1926 – 15 April 1988) was a British comic actor, star of 26 Carry On films, numerous television shows, and radio comedies.
Kenneth Charles Williams was born on 22 February 1926 in Bingfield Street, Kings Cross, London. Although his education was ordinary, he was a voracious reader throughout his life and in his interviews he could often quote entire poems or literary extracts purely from memory. Extracts from the diaries he kept as an adult, show that he adored his supportive, theatrical mother but despised his homophobic father.
His professional career began in 1948 with roles inrepertory theatre, but few serious parts suited his vocal and physical characteristics. His failure to become a serious dramatic actor disappointed him, but potential as a comic performer gave him his break. He was spotted by the radio producer who was casting Hancock's Half Hour, a radio series starring Tony Hancock. Williams went on to lend his distinctive vocal and comedic talents to the series until almost the end of its run, five years later. His nasal, whiny, camp-cockney inflections (epitomised in his "Stop messing about...!" catchphrase) became hugely popular with the listening public and would endure in popular lore for many years. Despite the success and recognition the radio show brought him, Williams's own view was that theatre, film and television were 'superior' forms of entertainment to radio shows.
Williams also appeared in several West End revues. Williams's last revue was One over the Eight, with Shiela Hancock. Particularly in the theatre, Williams was famous for breaking character, ad-libbing and talking to the audience.
In the 1960s and 70s Williams worked regularly in British films, notably the Carry On series (1958–1978) with its British double entendre-laced humour, which were highly successful but for which he, along with the rest of the cast, was poorly paid. In his diaries Williams claims he earned more in a British Gas commercial than for any single Carry On film. In his diaries he was often highly critical of the Carry On films, both of his own performances and those of his fellow actors, and gave the impression that he considered them to be beneath his talents. This was the case with many of the films, television programmes, stage plays and radio shows he appeared in, and he was quick to find fault with his own work. Despite this private criticism, he still appeared in more of the Carry On films than any of his fellow actors, and spoke fondly of them in his interviews. Peter Rogers, producer of the series, recollected, "Kenneth was worth taking care of, because while he cost very little — £5,000 a film — he made a very great deal of money for the franchise."
On October 14, 1962 Williams's father, Charles, was taken to hospital after drinkingcarbon tetrachloride that had been stored in a cough mixture bottle. Williams refused to visit him, and the following day went out for lunch and then to the cinema. Charles died that afternoon and, an hour after being informed, Williams went on stage in the West End. The coroner's court recorded a verdict of accidental death due to corrosive poisoning by carbon tetrachloride, with no explanation of how the poison came to be in the bottle.
Williams always insisted he was celibate, and his diaries suggest he was — at least from his early 40s onwards. This was partly because he found his homosexuality emotionally difficult to deal with and the attendant lifestyle distasteful. He lived alone all his adult life and appears to have had few close companions apart from his mother, and no romantic relationships of any great significance.
Although making a good living, Williams lived in a succession of small rented flats in north London from the mid-1950s until his death. After his father died, his mother, Louisa, always lived close by him (and, finally, in the next-door flat to his). The best-known flat that Williams lived in was in the block on Osnaburgh Street, which is now demolished.
Williams rarely revealed details of his private life, though he spoke openlyabout his loneliness, despondency and sense of underachievement in two half-hour documentary programmes entitled Carry On Kenneth on BBC Radio London. In later years his health declined, along with that of his elderly mother, and his depression deepened. He died on 15 April 1988 in his Camden flat; the cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates.